A Love Lesson from the French

Ok, I’m a sucker for provocative headlines. So when I saw a link to a Huffington Post piece called “What French Women Can Teach Us About Sex and Love,” of course I opened it.

The author gives a few rather mundane observations about flirting, romance, the non-importance of marriage. But, for me, there was one rather interesting factoid mentioned – data from a 2008 study which found that 90 percent of French women over the age of 50 are sexually active, as compared to an estimated 60 percent of American women. Now, this didn’t just get my attention because I’m a woman over 50. It was interesting because it told me that more MEN over the age of 50 are also having sex in France than in the U.S., and made me ask why that might be?

The answer to that question must lie in one very important difference between the French and Americans. Largely, French men (and, of course, women) are having sex with intact genitals, while the vast majority of American adult men (probably around 80 million, to be specific) are missing the most sensitive part of their penis – the prepuce, or foreskin.

In addition to the intuitively obvious (that having a body part removed would mean you’re missing, at minimum, the sensation and function of that body part), scientific data is starting to show long-term sexual consequences from removing this highly sensitive tissue from boys’ genitals. Both circumcised men and their female partners report higher levels of sexual dysfunction, less sensitivity, and less satisfaction.

This should not surprise us. We have absolutely no problem accepting that women whose genitals have been mutilated will experience sexual pain or ongoing trauma, or that their male partners might find sex with such women to be less enjoyable. Yet many Americans continue to resist the clear parallels when it comes to male circumcision. This is particularly ironic, given that historically and across cultures one of the main rationales for cutting off a boy’s prepuce was to reduce his sexual pleasure, whether self-administered through masturbation (thought in Victorian times to be the root of all evil), or through intercourse. Moses Maimonides, the Jewish Medieval philosopher and physician, indeed cited the diminution of pleasure as an explicit benefit of male circumcision:

“The fact that circumcision weakens the faculty of sexual excitement and sometimes perhaps diminishes the pleasure is indubitable. For if at birth this member has been made to bleed and has had its covering taken away from it, it must indubitably be weakened.” – Moses Maimonides, Jewish Medieval philosopher and physician

So after reading about French romance, French foreplay, and who takes the initiative in French lovemaking, here’s my take:

The most important thing the French – men and women – can teach Americans about love and sex is to leave our children with the bodies that nature intended them to have.

Georganne Chapin

IOTM – Alan Cumming

JUNE 2013: Every June, people in cities across America celebrate Gay Pride Week, and intactivists in both New York City and San Francisco will be marching in Pride parades, spreading the message that boys deserve the right to genital integrity. We’re proud to honor those in the gay rights movement who also fight for the rights of infant boys to keep the bodies they were born with. That’s why we’ve chosen outspoken gay rights activist Alan Cumming as June’s Intactivist of the Month.

Award-winning star of stage and screen, Alan Cumming joined Intact America’s Board of Advocates shortly after the organization’s founding, and has partnered with Intact America (IA) on several occasions. One of the many reasons we love him is because Alan uses his public platform to highlight our issue. In television interviews, magazine articles, even onstage in monologues before solo performances, Alan talks about the insanity of cutting the foreskins off baby boys, and about the virtues of being intact. Last year, Alan wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal, which was deemed “too raw” for its readers…so he posted it on his blog and allowed us to reproduce it on the Intact America blog. The piece was called “May the Foreskin Be With You.”

Alan’s devotion to intactivism started well before he joined Intact America’s Board of Advocates; for years, he’s been a supporter of Great Britain’s National Organization of Restoring Men (NORM-UK). “I have a foreskin,” he says. “I am meant to have one. It’s not there for no reason. Why are so many babies (more than half the population of U.S. males alone) made to have a piece of their genitals lopped off at only a few days old? It’s insane and cruel and pandemic, and I believe we all need to question why we do it, examine the (sometimes tragic) effects of doing it, and be educated about foreskin health. We need to stand up and question why we allow such a traumatic and violent act to be repeated unthinkingly generation after generation!”

alan_macbethWhen interviewed by David Mixner, gay rights activist and former political advisor to President Bill Clinton, about the work of Intact America, Alan said, “Online organizing will build grassroots support for male genital integrity (a phrase I absolutely love). Intact America’s online petition to the Centers for Disease Control [demanding that it avoid recommending circumcision] very quickly went ‘viral’ and drew tens of thousands of signatures. With millions sharing our view that circumcision is wrong and harmful, it’s just the beginning. Already, the rate of circumcision in the U.S. has declined from 80 to 56 percent since the 1960s; [supporting] Intact America will hasten that trend.”

“I am profoundly honored to count Alan Cumming among Intact America’s supporters,” says Georganne Chapin. “Alan isn’t just smart and talented and funny—he is a compassionate and intuitive person who understands the full implications of circumcision, both for males subjected to it, and for society at large. I am thrilled that Alan has chosen to openly support Intact America and advocate for the rights of boys and men to their whole, natural bodies.”

Alan achieved international fame with his Tony Award-winning performance in Cabaret, and has been featured in dozens of Hollywood films, including X2: X Men United, the Spy Kids trilogy, and The Anniversary Party. In 2013 he performed in a one-man version of Macbeth on Broadway, and donated part of the proceeds from ticket sales to Intact America.

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Guest Blogger: Alan Cumming!

As you may know, Alan Cumming, star of stage and screen, is a vocal supporter of intactivism, and serves on Intact America’s Board of Advocates. Alan was recently asked by the Wall Street Journal to write about circumcision, but the paper’s editors ultimately felt his essay was “too raw” for their readers. We are delighted to print it here, with Alan’s permission, in its entirety.

“May the foreskin be with you,” by Alan Cumming

No man will deny that it feels pretty great to have someone gasp at your penis.

Well, that’s what happened to me when I first moved to America and started to show people the contents of my underpants. But their gasping was not due to my gargantuan girth (though no complaints so far, thank you very much!) but more to the fact that I, unlike the vast majority of American males, have not been genitally mutilated. I have a foreskin. I am intact.Alan Cumming

The gasping was due to the fact that most people had never seen a real, unadulterated, uncircumcised penis before, and some of the people who were seeing mine had, to be frank, been round the block a few times so their reaction was all the more surprising and on reflection, upsetting.

For not only did they have no idea of what a foreskin looked like, they also had no idea how to deal with it when we got down to business. I had to give quite a few seminars on how it worked. Can you imagine being in your thirties and suddenly having to explain to lovers how your genitals functioned, or having them gush that they’d never seen one like yours before, or, worse, recoil in disdain and say ‘what do you even do with that?’

It made me feel that I was the weird one, I was deformed, I was not normal, when of course it was they who had had a piece of the most sensitive part of their bodies removed. I was the intact one. I was complete, I told myself. They were the ones who were lacking, literally, and who needed to be counseled and awakened to these facts.

We have a foreskin for a reason. Mine protects the most sensitive part of my body. Of course when I say this in the now many conversations I have had on this topic, there is always some guy who scoffs and says he couldn’t possibly be any more sensitive down there, if he were it might be some sort of problem. To him, and to you now, dear reader, I offer this little parable:

Say I am having a shower and as I am toweling myself off my foreskin gets pulled back, revealing the head of my penis. When I begin to dress, if the head is still out and it touches the fabric of my underwear, it is so uncomfortable and sensitive that I have to pull my foreskin back down immediately before I can finish dressing. That’s how sensitive it is. And that’s also how much sensitivity you lose when you are circumcised.

Of course no man wants to hear that he is missing out on sexual pleasure by something that happened when he was a few days old and is therefore irreversible as well as impossible for him to even conceive of the difference. That’s why I think a lot of men who are circumcised are initially defensive and protective of the procedure, and see any opposition to it by people like me as hysterical and cranky. I get it. Maybe I would be like that too if I wasn’t intact, and if I spent most of my life never encountering anyone who was.

But this defensiveness can turn rather aggressive when a discussion, um, extends into anything more than a passing comment and I am always amazed by people’s reasoning for why this really distressing thing was done to them and in turn why they intend to continue the tradition on their own male offspring. We are all so rightly horrified by the genital mutilation of girls in some parts of the world. I say, why don’t we have the same abhorrence about it happening to little boys here?

The phrase ‘Religious reasons’ will be quoted though most are vague on what these actually are when pressed. Occasionally the ‘covenant with God’ angle will rear its head, though when I say that we have stopped most of the other barbaric practices described in the Bible so why are we so keen to continue this one, nobody really wants to listen. Then, prospective fathers who are defending future circumcision on their boys will say things like ‘He’ll be teased in the locker rooms.’ Why? For having all his body parts intact? Or, my personal favorite: ‘I want him to look like me!’ Is this a part of American culture I have not been enlightened about yet? Do you all go home at Thanksgiving and get your wangs out in front of your fathers and compare notes? I mean, really.

So I have decided to get together a book, a sort of circumcision 101. In it you will find everything you ever wanted to know (and some stuff I daresay you didn’t) about circumcision. Why it’s done, how it’s done, the religious reasons, the social reasons, the myths, the facts, testimonials from those who’ve had it done, those who haven’t and also, how it can go wrong, horribly, horribly wrong. It’s the perfect read for anyone with a penis and those who love them, which covers the whole population of the planet so fingers crossed that this will be a cash cow for Intact America and Norm-UK, two organizations I am affiliated with and who are doing sterling work in educating and advising on this matter, and who, like me, really want above all to make parents question if they really want their infant son to be subjected to such a traumatic, irreversible and potentially dangerous medical procedure. Let’s get the conversation started, I say.

I have been trying to do that for years, ever since that first gasp as I dropped my drawers. Once, when I was working on Broadway in Cabaret” the girl who did my make-up confessed she had never seen an uncircumcised penis. I thought this was shocking and decided tonight was the night. She was understandably a little freaked out, but we had known each other for over a year and she painted a swastika on my right butt cheek nearly every night of that year so we were pretty close. And as I said, I was doing her a favour. Knowledge is power and all that.

She stepped out into the hall. I pulled down my dance belt and presented the Cumming manhood. We had agreed I would call her in, she would take a quick look then go back out of the room again so I could rearrange myself, then call her back in and she’d get back to work. I shouted I was ready and the door opened slowly and I saw her little face full of trepidation. But only for a second!

‘Oh, I see,’ she exclaimed, bounding towards me, all nerves gone, now caught up in a physiological field trip. ‘It’s not at all how I thought it would be!’

‘What did you think it would be like?’’ I asked, feeling slightly objectified but also in the same moment acknowledging I had totally invited it.

‘Well,’ she said, her eyes still fixed on my pudendum. ‘I thought it would be more like a flip-top bin!’

‘What, like you’d stand on my foot and my foreskin would pull back?’ I guffawed.

‘Something like that!’ she shrieked, and soon the two of us were bent double with the silliness of it all.

At that moment, a vision was hatched. I chose to accept a mission to lift the lid as it were, to educate and enlighten what a penis is supposed to look like, without having to actually get mine out every time to do so!

May The Foreskin Be With You will be published later this year by Magnus Books.

Intact America is proud to count Alan among our friends. We look forward to hearing your reactions to his story, and also your own foreskin-friendly or foreskin-hostile experiences!

—Georganne Chapin

Sex and Circumcision

It was bound to happen, but I hadn’t decided what I’d do about it. Then, one day, during an interview on a Toronto radio talk show, a caller who had first announced that he was circumcised, and “wasn’t missing anything,” asked me, somewhat inelegantly: “So, have you had sex with both kinds, uncircumcised and circumcised? Are you saying one is better than the other?”

Then and there, I decided to take the plunge. After all, I am almost 60 years old. Who in the world, other than me and my “boyfriend” (still looking for a better term), really cares about my sex life? And I grew up in the 60’s, graduated from high school in (tee-hee) 1969. So I’m supposed to be able to talk about this without blushing, right? Right.

“All other things being equal,” I said, “yes, sex is better with a man who has a normal, complete penis.”

Love (and lust) can conquer a lot. You can love a circumcised man with all your heart, you can make it work, and what you do together is nobody’s business but your own. But a man who has been robbed of his foreskin is missing something. (Actually, he’s missing a lot – 15 square inches of specialized skin, muscle, and nerve endings, designed to protect the glans (head of the penis) and keep it moist and sensitive, easing intercourse and enhancing pleasure.) And so is his sex partner.

Scientific studies (a recent Danish article reports the results from interviews with 5500 men and their female partners) are emerging that show what many of us know from experience but may have been unable to “prove”: male sexual problems like trouble reaching orgasm, and women’s problems such as pain during intercourse, are more common when the man’s foreskin has been removed. It’s no wonder that many men who were forcibly circumcised as babies are angry and grief-stricken when they begin to realize the profound consequences of the assault and their loss.

On the other hand, understanding that many of the sexual problems stereotypically attributed to men’s “selfishness” are actually a consequence of circumcision, can go a long way toward easing couples’ relationships and – I fervently hope – making the case for leaving future generations of men intact.

Georganne Chapin