An aspect of circumcision that is often overlooked is the potential long-term consequences of surgically removing the foreskin from an infant’s or child’s penis. In this article, we will shed light on the physical, psychological, and sexual implications that may arise years after the procedure. We believe presenting personal testimonies, scientific studies, and societal narratives can make a difference in the ultimate health and well-being of babies, boys, and men and their partners. The choice to circumcise or to respect a baby, child, or man’s natural body is an irreversible decision that has lifelong effects.
Physical Complications Post-Circumcision
Although there is information about physical complications post-surgery on babies, there is very little documentation on the long-term physical complications of circumcision, as this requires the testimony of adults, and if their parents never discussed the potential long-term consequences of circumcision, adults may not understand the relationship between their disorder and circumcision. However, studies cite these long-term issues: “meatal stenosis, in addition to excess or inadequate excision of the foreskin, concealed penis, adhesions between penile skin and glans penis, penile deformities, secondary hypospadias, bad wound healing, granuloma, skin bridges, and psychological disorders.” 1 Intact America board member and author of Please Don’t Cut the Baby! A Nurse’s Memoir, Marilyn Milos, recalls hearing about the long-term consequences of circumcision from the gay community in the mid-1980s.
Besides the emotional damage, they talked to me about ugly scarring, especially from the Gomco clamp that allows blood to seep into the peripheral tissue of the penis, leaving large dark patches under the skin. They told me about tight cuts causing painful erections and loose cuts that helped prevent painful erections, at least somewhat. They told me about the curvature of the penis, something that occurs when more skin is taken from one side than the other. They told me about the skin bridges and the hunks and slices missing from the glans.
The worst long-term physical consequence is lifelong disfigurement, which involves the loss of part or all of the penis. Milos writes about two infants at an Atlanta hospital in 1985 “that suffered severe disfiguring electrical burns to the penis and adjacent areas when each of their physicians used an electric cauterizing needle as part of the circumcision procedure.” The burns to one of the infants were so severe that his parents opted to surgically alter the sex of their son to a girl. The other boy underwent continuous reconstructive surgeries but would never function sexually as a normal male and required lifelong urological care.2
Don’t think that these kinds of mistakes can no longer happen. A doctor in Palm Beach County, Florida, botched two circumcisions as recently as 2017, which resulted in the amputation of an infant’s penis, and in 2021 when another infant lost a third of his penis and his urethra was sliced—the same doctor, mind you, who had continued to practice.3
Psychological and Emotional Impacts of Circumcision
Circumcision can have deep psychological and emotional impacts. The normal response of a body to physical trauma is lingering psychological trauma. You might think babies would have no memory of the physical and psychological trauma of circumcision, but studies have shown that is not true.
In her book, Please Don’t Cut the Baby!, Milos talks about how the groundwork for the field of Birth Psychology changed thinking about babies and their experience of pain and trauma.
“Dr. David Chamberlain, a California psychologist, had been using hypnotherapy to discover and resolve traumas arising in the womb and at birth and had done research demonstrating that birth memories were reliable memories.”
While working on materials for the 2nd International Symposium on Circumcision, Milos was queried by a customer at the cafe where she had spread out her papers about what she was doing. When she revealed it was for a symposium on circumcision, the man, who was Jewish, told her that he had relived his circumcision during Primal Therapy to get to the root of his trust issues. She heard similarly disturbing stories from many circumcised men who had a sense of violation, loss, and self-esteem issues.
Sexual Ramifications of Circumcision
Circumcision significantly impacts sexual health and pleasure. Dryness due to the absence of natural lubrication provided by the foreskin is an issue for some circumcised men, leading to discomfort during intercourse. Moreover, some studies show that the removal of the foreskin reduces sensitivity, requiring more intense stimulation for arousal and pleasure. Some men may experience difficulties achieving or maintaining erections, stemming from both the physical and psychological consequences of circumcision.
Director of IA Georganne Chapin has a chapter called “What’s Sex Got to Do With It?” in her book This Penis Business. The answer is—everything.
“How could cutting off a sexual body part not affect the mechanics and quality of the victim’s sex life, sexual relationships, and psyche?” asks Chapin. “You’re missing blood vessels, muscle, specialized nerve endings, and other features unique to the foreskin designed for the optimal performance, protection, pleasure, and satisfaction of the man—and his partner.”
Milos and her colleagues conducted and published a study on the sensitivity of a circumcised penis versus an intact one.4 Not surprisingly, considering circumcised penises are missing 20,000 to 70,000 erogenous nerve endings, intact penises were more sensitive.
Chapin also points out in This Penis Business that “an intact penis is a bit longer and a bit chubbier than a circumcised penis” and that a circumcised male has been robbed of an index-card-size area of sensitive, mobile, protective tissue that was provided by nature.
Over the years, there has been a remarkable evolution in the medical community’s perspective on routine infant circumcision. This shift highlights the ever-evolving nature of medical knowledge and stresses the importance of reevaluating practices in light of new research and understanding. Once hailed as a normative and medically advantageous procedure, opinions have changed dramatically in recent decades as the truth about the dangers and consequences of circumcision has come to light. Many health organizations and professionals now recognize that circumcision is not medically necessary and that there are long-term consequences in addition to short-term risks.
Intact America believes that circumcision decisions should be based on the informed choice of the individual in question, emphasizing bodily autonomy. By staying informed, we can further the cause of informed decision-making and ensure that every choice regarding circumcision is made with careful consideration and respect for individuals, regardless of age. By fostering open dialogue without judgment or prejudice, we can pave the way for nuanced conversations that empower future generations to make choices aligned with their best interests and well-being. Let’s raise awareness, advocate for informed decision-making, and create a supportive environment for all.
- MK Atikeler et al., “Increased Morbidity After Cırcumcision From a Hidden Complication.” BJU Int. 2001;88:938–40, http://dx.doi.org/10.1046/j.1464-4096.2001.02416.x; E. Benli, O. Koca, “Circumcision Research in Bingol Province.” The New J Urol. 2011;6:22–5.
- Holly Baltz, “5 Takeaways: Palm Beach Post Investigation into Florida OB-GYN and Babies, Moms Who Died Under His Care.” Palm Beach Post, September 23, 2021, https://www.palmbeachpost.com/story/news/2021/09/23/west-palm-ob-gyn-malpractice-lawsuits-moms-babies-died-circumcisions-botched-doctor-kept-practicing/5524867001/.
- Morris L. Sorrells, James L. Snyder, Mark D. Reiss, Christopher Eden, Marilyn F. Milos, Norma Wilcox, Robert S. Van Howe. “Fine-Touch Pressure Thresholds in the Adult Penis.” BJU International (99, 4:864-9), March 19, 2007.