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Why I Got Into “This Penis Business”

November 3, 2011

This is my first blog post for Intact America, and I’m going to address a question I’ve been asked a thousand times in one way or another. My favorite version of the question was put to me by my late friend, anthropologist Lucie Saunders:  “Why did you “get into this … this penis business?” she asked, with her hands fluttering. She, like many, was genuinely curious. Others ask because they think I should spend my time on “real problems.” I don’t mind the question – rhetorical or not. Male circumcision is such an embedded custom in American medicine that many people think it’s weird to question it. Until they think again.

My answer as to why I got into “this penis business,” is that I always saw circumcision as a real problem, as an unjustifiable violation of babies’ bodies, babies’ rights. So opposing circumcision is not about penises. It’s about defending human rights. It’s about sparing babies – small but complete people with their own individual rights – from assault, from pain and suffering, and from the permanent loss of an intimate, personal, sensual part of their body, and about preserving their right to an open future.

I also advocate for universal health care, believing that it’s a foundation of a just society. But with the increasing consolidation of corporate power in medicine, and the drug and device companies and the insurance industry lined up against the forces calling for a humane and sensible system, the chance to make a difference on that front seems daunting.

Circumcision, on the other hand, is something for which one’s advocacy can quickly alter the course of lives. One conversation with a pregnant mom can save a baby from an excruciating primal experience – and save his parents from years of guilt and remorse.  An intact boy/man is somebody who doesn’t have at least THAT – sometimes buried but always (I believe) lurking – shadow terror in his psyche. Being free from this demon can only make him a calmer, less fearful and less defensive man, and can only benefit his future partners (male or female), his family, and others around him.

No, I don’t believe that every man who has been circumcised is a coiled wire waiting to spring, any more than I think that every intact man is a kind person.  Nonetheless, being tied down and having part of your genitals cut off – what a horrible way to start a life, what a breach of trust, what a fount of bitterness for the start of a life. And what a horrible burden to bear for a parent who realizes later that she (or he), because of ignorance, social pressure, or misinformation, didn’t protect her child.

As I do this work, I often think how fortunate I was to know before the birth of my own son 31 years ago that the intact male body was – well – normal. This awareness gave us both the gift of not having to say “I’m sorry” to each other  – at least, not about “this penis business.”

If you want to know more about me and how I became an intactivist, click on this link to an interview James Lowen filmed in the summer of 2010.

by Georganne Chapin

39 Comments
  1. ATS permalink
    December 14, 2011 12:51 pm

    Thank you for making me understand why I should leave my son intact. This is my first baby and I didnt know which way to go, but after doing a lot of research and reading all of your comments, i have decided not circumcise my baby. Thank You!!!!

    • December 15, 2011 3:59 pm

      Thank YOU for writing, and telling us that we made a difference. Congratulations on being a new mother. Take the whole baby home, to love and enjoy! And spread the world. Every baby spared this unnecessary agony is a victory for peace, love, and rationality.

  2. Dr John Glazebrook permalink
    December 13, 2011 1:40 am

    When are you people going to stop trying to force your opinions on others !!\

    If infant circumcision is such a “violation of human rights” why are there not hundreds of millions of
    men out demonstrating for the restoration of their foreskins ? I strongly suspect they are perfectly happy with smegma free penis and the fact that they are 60% less likely of contracting AIDS and HIV Also of not harbouring oncogenic strains of HPV which give cervical cancer to women Both are lethal diseases which can be prevented

    THE SCIENCE IS NOT GOING TO GO AWAY AND THE INTACTIVISTS CAN DO ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ABOUT IT!!!

  3. December 9, 2011 1:12 am

    can we pls stop calling it circumcision and call it what it really is “male genital mutilation” thats all it is plastic surgery for male infants based 90% on the mothers preferance.

  4. Howard Smith permalink
    November 17, 2011 7:00 pm

    Thank you, Georganne, for all your efforts in stopping this unethical assault on male babies. You, Marilyn Milos and others are my heroes!!

  5. jimfromcalif permalink
    November 17, 2011 2:30 am

    You raised a curious point about the advocates. That very question has been asked of me, as if there is something wrong with not fiddling with baby boys’ penises! They are the one who need to answer that question!

  6. November 16, 2011 2:05 am

    “An intact boy/man is somebody who doesn’t have at least THAT – sometimes buried but always (I believe) lurking – shadow terror in his psyche”

    Ronald Goldman documents higher violence, rape, suicide, divorce in circumcising societies. “Circumcision, The Hidden Trauma”

    What does a boy think in his own private mind when he finds out his most private part was altered?

    • Larry permalink
      November 16, 2011 6:49 pm

      Peggy,

      You asked “What does a boy think in his own private mind when he finds out his most private part was altered?” Now that I get it, I am angry and mistrustful of the whole human race.

      Unfortunately, it doesn’t really happen that way. Boys really don’t know what happened to them because no parent dares explain to a boy just what they did to their genitals. By the time men figure that they had been unnecessesarily mutilated, they’ve often already passed the mutilative practice on to their own sons. Fortunately with more informed parents questioning authority, circumcision rates will continue to drop.

    • jimfromcalif permalink
      November 17, 2011 2:20 am

      Don’t kid yourself. There are tens of thousands of men who fully understand the damage which was done to them. Consider the foreskin restoration movement which began in the early 1980s. Most of those involved have left their sons intact.

    • jimfromcalif permalink
      November 17, 2011 2:23 am

      Whatever it is, it is the equivalent of what female victims of rape think. In a sense, it’s even worse because it leaves physical scars in addition to emotional scars. In each case, emotional scars can be dealt with, but the physical scars are nearly impossible to hide even with the best of restoration efforts.

    • Howard Smith permalink
      November 17, 2011 6:14 pm

      What does a boy think in his own private mind when he finds out his most private part was altered?

      Peggy, I can tell you what went through this boy’s mind. I was six years old and it was the first night away from home at a boarding school. Already feeling lonely and abandoned. We were herded into the communal washroom, which contained a row of at least a half dozen concrete tubs, for our evening bath. It was immediately apparent that a lot of the other boys possessed a penis that was different from my own. I did not understand exactly what had been done, but I certainly understood that I had been altered in a very personal way. I was shocked. I could not fathom why anyone would have done that to me. And like many others, the scars, both physical and psychological will be with me all my life.

    • November 18, 2011 7:16 pm

      Oh Howard.. I am so sorry.

      My intact boy is seven and already some of his friends have noticed and questioned why their penis is different from his.

      Each time it breaks my heart but I cannot bring myself to say the truth. I just say some have innies and some outies like belly buttons.

  7. Smartypants permalink
    November 16, 2011 12:14 am

    Georganne – Thank you for all you are doing to protect baby boys and human rights.

    My Story…I am a mother. Sixteen years ago when my son was born, my doctor asked me about circumcision. I was given literature about how it might prevent AIDS and other infections and that if my son remained uncircumcised I was to retract the skin to keep it clean. (now I know one should never force retraction) I looked to my husband (who is circumcised) for him to make the final decision, and it was done. The human rights aspect never entered my mind

    Today I regret the decision and live with guilt that I made a decision that was not mine to make. Although my son says he is glad he is circumcised, I feel that one day he might regret it as I know many men regret it when they become sexually active.

    I hope expecting parents do more research than I did when making the decision and I wish IntactAmerica much success.

    • November 18, 2011 12:36 am

      Dear friend –
      I have heard from many mothers who feel similarly guilty. You didn’t know, and you did the best you could, with what you knew at the time. Now, thanks to the internet, and to people like all of you who are speaking out here, more and more parents have the information they need to feel confident that leaving their boys intact is the right thing to do. Keep speaking out, telling your story. Truth is our most powerful asset.

  8. Clint Summer permalink
    November 15, 2011 10:13 pm

    “An intact boy/man is somebody who doesn’t have at least THAT – sometimes buried but always (I believe) lurking – shadow terror in his psyche. Being free from this demon can only make him a calmer, less fearful and less defensive man, and can only benefit his future partners (male or female), his family, and others around him.

    No, I don’t believe that every man who has been circumcised is a coiled wire waiting to spring, any more than I think that every intact man is a kind person. Nonetheless, being tied down and having part of your genitals cut off – what a horrible way to start a life, what a breach of trust, what a fount of bitterness for the start of a life.”

    Thank you so much for recognizing and articulating the psychological effects of circumcision, Georganne. As one who has carried PTSD symptoms his whole life as a result of the circumcision experience, I strongly believe that this is the most significant aspect of this issue. It can affect all aspects of a man’s life and all those with whom he has relationships – especially close ones.

    I recently watched the movie, “Cut: Slicing Through the Myths of Circumcision” and saw that it failed to address the psycho-emotional aspect. Afterwards, I asked the film-maker (Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon, who was present) about this, and he said it was left out because of a lack of scientific evidence. The more I think about it, the more I believe it would be possible to design a study that would reveal the traumatic effects of circumcision. If any such studies have been done, I would very much like to know about them. If none have been done, I will seriously consider finding others to work with on doing one.

    Thank you, Georganne, Marilyn and all those who have put so much effort into ending this barbaric practice. I suspect it is actually promoted for the emotional effect it has on males – as a way of “taming” them and making them more subservient and yet willing to face danger (once you’ve been deprived of any sense of safety in the world, facing real danger isn’t such a big deal). May we see an end if this practice in our time!

    • jimfromcalif permalink
      November 17, 2011 2:24 am

      Read Goldman’s book.

  9. November 15, 2011 8:51 pm

    I think you are one awesome lady and I admire you very much for what you are doing.

    • November 18, 2011 12:37 am

      I thank you for taking the time to read this blog, and to weigh in.

  10. November 15, 2011 8:04 pm

    Why would anyone want to alter a perfectly born child. It’s wonderful that you are out there raising awareness about this unnecessary butchering procedure. It’s torture!

    • jimfromcalif permalink
      November 17, 2011 2:25 am

      The practice of infant male genital mutilation in America has evolved into a national religion. Think about it.

  11. Amanda permalink
    November 15, 2011 8:02 pm

    By the way, reading the other commenters here, I have to say that I am English (naturalized American in adulthood). All the males in my family are intact — as indeed are most British men. And when they think of it, they are amazed and aghast that Americans have done this, and continue to do this, in such numbers. They think it barbarous, and they are right.

  12. Amanda permalink
    November 15, 2011 7:53 pm

    What a wonderfully humane and sensible person you are, Georganne. Your reasons in paragraph 2 are my reasons, too. On behalf of all those babies that you are protecting, thank you so much for what you do.

  13. Dr. Christopher Guest permalink
    November 8, 2011 8:38 pm

    The non-therapeutic amputation of healthy genital tissue from non-consenting children is medically unethical, it is a violation of human rights, it is irrational and unscientific and, as physicians, we have a moral obligation to oppose this cruel practice and properly educate the public. The foreskin is richly innervated erogenous tissue and should not be amputated without medical urgency or unless the benefit significantly outweighs the potential for harm. Virtually all medical associations in the world agree there is no reasonable benefit to non-therapeutic circumcision, yet some physicians continue to encourage this practice by inciting absurd concerns over cleanliness and soliciting spurious medical benefits, ALL of which have been either debunked or shown to be disproportionate to the risk associated with the actual procedure. Circumcision was only medicalized during the Victorian era as a misguided attempt to curb masturbation, which was thought to be harmful. It was used as a means of decreasing sexual pleasure and disrupting the normal gliding mechanism of the penis. Circumcision is a disgrace to our profession. It is steeped in superstition and ignorance and cultural transference. Most Canadian physicians refuse to participate in this immoral practice. Bronze age religious blood rituals should never trump rational scientific judgment, contemporary medical ethics and the universal right to bodily integrity. Our ethical obligation is to the boy, not to conspire with the cultural or religious traditions of the parents – the boy is the patient, not the parents. Put down the scalpels. His body, his decision.

    Dr. Christopher L. Guest MD,FRCPC
    Barrie, Ontario, Canada

    • Clint Summer permalink
      November 15, 2011 10:18 pm

      Thank you so much for such an excellent statement of the truth of what routine infant circumcision really is, Dr Guest. I would like to post this elsewhere, if you’re okay with that.

    • Howard Smith permalink
      November 17, 2011 5:59 pm

      Now, why can’t all doctors have the same level of logic and ethics that you possess, Dr Guest. Thank you. That was most eloquently stated.

  14. November 5, 2011 11:59 pm

    Any of us who are scared or defensive about coming out against circumcision need to remember – as I told myself at the beginning – we are RIGHT. What could possibly be ok about cutting off the end of a baby’s penis? About cutting off any part of a baby’s body? Put it that way, and then somebody has to defend not “circumcision,” which sounds so clinical, but rather TYING DOWN A BABY AND CUTTING OFF PART OF HIS PENIS. “Gee, what could be wrong with that?” I don’t think so. Thank you everybody for your comments.

  15. November 4, 2011 2:06 pm

    Wow, So wonderful to see many of the greatest intactivists in modern history all posting on the same page!
    Not having one myself (except for a day or two after birth of course), I always found foreskin fascinating but simply thought that being cut was nothing but a harmless alternative to being “uncut” or having foreskin was an exciting surprise to run into on someone else. I never thought it reflected upon my “all American” cut penis at all.
    I eventually started hearing intact men talking about being more sensitive and it made sense to me so then I started believing that circumcision was wrong but still had no idea just HOW wrong.
    Over a year ago I saw a tiny mention in a gay NYC magazine called “NEXT” about actor Alan Cumming appearing at a club and he said he was a supporter of Intact America.
    I immediately looked it up on the web and started researching circumcision and was furious to find that so many issues I’ve had my whole sexual life (tightness, tearing skin, not enjoying oral sex very much, etc.) were all common among circumcised men and I was in fact an “all American” VICTIM of genital mutilation.
    Being vigorously against infant circumcision is completely seperate from any kind of sexual interest, it’s about ending oppression and torture.
    I take great pride in being a member of Intact America and I engage people in person and online almost daily about circumcision.
    And indeed, I hear it regularly…”Isn’t there something more important you could be doing with your time?”… “Do you really think that circumcision is the most important issue in the world today?”
    I have my trusty handy answer always ready for that…No, circumcision is not the most important issue facing the world BUT anything else in it’s category is ALREADY ILLEGAL!!

    • Howard Smith permalink
      November 17, 2011 5:54 pm

      David, I love that last line – so true!

  16. Juliet Bruce permalink
    November 4, 2011 2:02 pm

    Georganne, this post beautifully articulates the way I feel, and the response I would always like to give to that question. Instead of such eloquence, I often end up flustered and defensive. I am so grateful for people like you and Marilyn Milos, and thousands of others who are in this fight for human rights. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    • November 20, 2011 3:54 pm

      Juliet –

      All of us struggle when first speaking out about circumcision, because it’s such a deeply entrenched custom in the U.S.

      Again, anybody who is arguing with you either has never thought about it, or is circumcised himself, or has circumcised others, or has a circumcised husband and is afraid to think about what that means, or has allowed others to be circumcised (e.g., their sons). I also figure out ways to give those people some space – like, “well, a lot of people haven’t given it any thought, but I’ve found out that once they do think about it, they see it a little differently.”

      Don’t forget for one moment: you are right, and they are wrong. You are defending babies; they are defending adults’ rights to cut babies. In the early days, I find it useful sometimes to be a little humorous, sometimes, or even flip. Something like: “Well, you have to admit it’s pretty weird to cut off part of a baby’s penis. I’m not sure why people think I’m the one who’s weird for just wanting to leave babies alone.”

      Anyway, you just keep speaking out in whatever way you can. And together we are making a huge difference.

  17. November 4, 2011 1:03 pm

    Thank you Georganne for keeping this dialog going. The more this issue is out in the open and talked about the closer we are to engaging the laws that are supposed to protect infants and children from assault and battery.

    While interviewing people about their experiences with this issue I’ve found, like Dan, that the reasons people get involved in this cause are surprisingly varied and very interesting.

    The people who speak up for this issue do share some very fundamental traits that encompass some of the very best human qualities.

    Personally I find it very compelling to hear people talk frankly, openly and honestly about a carefully guarded topic.

  18. Laura Bilbo permalink
    November 4, 2011 11:15 am

    “An intact boy/man is somebody who doesn’t have at least THAT – sometimes buried but always (I believe) lurking – shadow terror in his psyche. Being free from this demon can only make him a calmer, less fearful and less defensive man, and can only benefit his future partners (male or female), his family, and others around him.”

    I do not believe it is a coincidence that my circumcised son, in comparison to my intact son, is fearful and more sensitive to pain. From doctors visits, to sports, to even just this past Halloween, he is always very afraid of getting hurt, and lives in fear of so many things. I had made this observation way before I came across research as an intactivist that this is an effect of having experienced trauma through being circumcised.
    It breaks my heart, and I console myself with knowing I saved my younger son from this, precisely because came across Intact America and NoCirc while I was pregnant with him. I wish I had had internet when my oldest was born, because had even just one person questioned my decision to have him circumcised, I would have listened. Thank you for all you do!

    • jimfromcalif permalink
      November 17, 2011 2:28 am

      I’m curious what persuaded you to do it to the first one.

  19. November 4, 2011 10:42 am

    Thank you, Georganne, for stating the case against circumcision so eloquently. As one of those parents who didn’t know enough to protect my sons because I was lied to by my doctor, I will go to my grave knowing my sons will never know the wholeness of their bodies or the fullness of their sexual experience. I’m grateful for all those voices that now agree with us and speak out for the babies. Before a male knows he has a penis to protect, a mother knows she has a baby to protect. I’m glad you were wiser than I when your son was born and I’m sure glad you’re at the helm of Intact America!

  20. November 4, 2011 9:56 am

    Georganne, you articulated my own reasons for being involved in this cause, and you did it with eloquence. Thank you for explaining the intactivist perspective so well!

  21. November 4, 2011 3:51 am

    “Why are you in/how did you get into this penis business?” is a little like that question “how often do you beat your wife?”

    When it is not a genuine question, it is clear ad hominem. It is a filthy attempt to plant the idea in listener’s minds that you have some sort of obsession with baby boys’ penises.

    For whatever reason, people look past the reality that it is those wishing to justify taking a child, strapping him down and have part of his penis removed who are obsessed.

    The question seems to place advocates of infant circumcision beyond suspicion. Perhaps this projection is the intention of the asker of the question?

    Why advocating NOT DOING SOMETHING to a child’s genitals unless it is medically or clinically indicated makes one “obsessed with baby boys’ penises” is beyond me.

    The difference between surgery and mutilation is medical necessity and/or the consent of the individual in question

    We’re not into baby boys’ penises; we’re into LEAVING THEM ALONE!

    The bottom line:
    The foreskin is not a birth defect. Neither is it a congenital deformity or genital anomaly akin to a 6th finger or a cleft. Neither is it a medical condition like a ruptured appendix or diseased gall bladder. Neither is it a dead part of the body, like the umbilical cord, hair, or fingernails. The foreskin is normal, natural, healthy tissue with which all boys are born.

    Unless there is a medical or clinical indication, the circumcision of healthy, non-consenting individuals is a deliberate wound; it is the destruction of normal, healthy tissue, the permanent disfigurement of normal, healthy organs, and by very definition, infant genital mutilation, and a violation of the most basic of human rights.

    Doctors have absolutely no business performing surgery on healthy, non-consenting individuals, much less stoking a parent’s sense of entitlement.

  22. November 3, 2011 11:43 pm

    As someone who has literally gotten into the penis “business” I get this question a lot also.

    I think people who really know what the foreskin is and what it does wouldn’t ask the question or be at all surprised that someone can make a living helping men undo their circumcisions.

    Foreskin feels REALLY good.

  23. danbollinger3 permalink*
    November 3, 2011 8:57 pm

    Thanks, Georganne for posting. I am always surprised at how varied the reasons are for the people who have gotten involved in this cause. I’ve asked dozens, perhaps a hundred, how they got involved. They each have a unique story they tell. The reasons are personal, and sometimes tragic. Unlike other causes, they are not academic or intellectual.

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