Deeper Into Circumcision: An Invitation to Awareness

Deeper Into Circumcision:

An Invitation to Awareness

and Guide to Resources

for Researchers, Parents, Restorers, Activists

and the Merely Curious

by John A. Erickson

Reviewed by Scott A. McGillivray, Editor, Foreskin Quarterly
Foreskin Quarterly #23 (Winter 1996)

[I have numbered eight points I would like to clarify and have added comments at the end.]

"Deeper Into Circumcision: An Invitation to Awareness" is a fascinating example of the passion of the anti-circumcision/anti-genital mutilation movement. Author John A. Erickson's self-described "work in progress" is, above all, an impressive collage of resources, observations, testimonials, anecdotes and reference materials which collectively suggest a growing, arguably radical movement to virtually eliminate the practice of infant circumcision.

At first glance the manual -- an 8½-inch by 11-inch spiral-bound presentation -- resembles little more than a mad journey through the hearts, minds and, one might assume, exposed glans of a group of skinless souls bent on justice against those who robbed them of their "birthright." [1] (This "birthright," according to Erickson's studies, consists of a "piece of skin almost equivalent to a 3-inch by 5-inch index card ..." which contains "... about 50 million cells, 250 feet of nerves, 750 nerve endings, and 50 feet of blood vessels.")

But there is more here than a vehement, rebel-rousing fist in the air.

The manual reveals a deep cynicism toward the medical community at large, painting an unflattering portrait of an industry littered with ignorant physicians ("None of us do it for medical reasons. We do it because we fear being cast out of the tribe."), spineless nurses ("Hands ... shielded my ears from his screams ..."), and more than a handful of fetish-friendly folks whose Hippocratic oath includes an allowance for explorations of any number of sexually sadistic "on-the-job" fantasies ("... a bunch of men nursing erections as they watched a shrieking baby having his foreskin cut away ..."). The book even documents dissension within the medical community: One nurse -- a member of the Conscientious Objectors to Circumcision Nurses at St. Vincent's Hospital in Santa Fe, New Mexico, declares, "Nurses of America, I did not become a nurse to hurt babies, and neither did you. ... Wipe the blood from your hands and join me!"

Erickson's work also lists hundreds of resources for foreskin enthusiasts and anti-circumcision activists. An index of foreskin-related books, magazines and video transcripts from popular talk shows such as Donahue and Maury Povitch is included, as well as foreskin/circumcision-related information excerpted from other popular media. These accounts can be quite telling. For example, a brief but seemingly verbatim transcript from shock-talk host Rush Limbaugh's show includes references to audience laughter throughout the commentator's banter, illustrating the ignorant banter between Limbaugh and his fans.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this chronicle is the sheer volume of information Erickson has collected and assembled. Pandora's box has been opened. Numerous first-person accounts of circumcision trauma as well as recollections by parents, physicians and nurses are chronicled with dramatic attention to detail. One Jewish woman who refused to circumcise her child tells her parents, "I would do anything not to hurt you, my parents, except hurt my child." Clubs, organizations, publications, Web sites and support services combine to make a veritable cornucopia of information for victims, supporters, foreskin lovers and human-rights activists who have chosen circumcision (or "genital mutilation") as their "cause du jour."

According to Erickson's tome, most boys are circumcised because parents feel compelled to comply with social customs or religious beliefs. [2] In some cases, physicians assume responsibility for a child and circumcise without parental consent. Details of lawsuits resulting from unauthorized circumcisions are included in the book. All of this leads to Erickson's fundamental point: Circumcision is a social and religious practice with absolutely no medical basis. [3] Testimonials from medical professionals, including several physicians, substantiate this claim: "Circumcision is a brutal ritual rooted in superstition and should be abandoned," one doctor states. "There is no medical reason for exposing the tip of the penis," says physician Robert Van Howe. "The penis functions perfectly well with the tip unexposed." Other doctors confirm that the foreskin heightens pleasure by stimulating the glans with a natural sheath and lubricant. Additionally, it serves as a shield for the sensitive glans, providing a protective barrier against clothing.

Erickson argues that a boy must be left intact until he reaches an age where he can make a rational, educated choice about his own body. [4] This way, circumcision becomes an issue of personal choice, rather than a barbaric, undemocratic mandate randomly imposed upon boys. In this regard, Erickson seems grounded both in terms of logic and humanity.

The author is a bit misguided, however, in his efforts to portray circumcised penises as inherently handicapped. [5] Granted, there are individuals who have had, shall we say, less-than-attractive clip jobs. And, there are many men who have experienced medical difficulties after the procedure -- some with long-lasting effects. As with any surgical effort, this possibility exists. But to suggest that all men circumcised as infants will experience sexual dysfunction is a biased and illogical generalization. Many men live very fulfilling lives without a foreskin. [6] Yet Erickson's work suggests that circumcised men experience pleasure on a lower level [7] -- since they never had a foreskin, they simply "don't know any better."

Erickson's extremely thorough approach, at times, serves to contradict his viewpoint while unintentionally revealing an almost fanatical, seemingly anarchic fringe of the anti-circumcision movement. Erickson includes an excerpt from American Medical News about a physician sentenced to a year's probation for masturbating during a rectal exam. [8] Since this article has nothing to do with circumcision, its inclusion in the book is an obvious ploy to reinforce the "crooked physician" philosophy to which many activists give credence.

Despite its shortcomings, Deeper Into Circumcision is a fascinating read. Amid the chaos of the more radical aspects of the anti-circumcision movement, the author presents a bounty of information in a well-organized style. I couldn't put Deeper Into Circumcision down, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in foreskin, the intact male, the process of restoration or the right to govern one's body.

Comments by John Erickson:

[1] Deeper Into Circumcision documents the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of a wide variety men, women, and children, both intact and not.

[2] I have never said that most boys are circumcised because parents feel compelled to comply with social customs or religious beliefs. I think "social customs" and "religious beliefs" are just masks to hide the real reasons. I think the real reasons most boys are circumcised are:

[3] I have never said that circumcision is a social and religious practice. My fundamental point is that infant circumcision is foreskin amputation by force and should therefore be outlawed.

[4] I have never argued that a boy must be left intact until he reaches an age where he can make a rational, educated choice about his own body. I regard that argument as a false issue because it suggests -- incorrectly, I think -- that, given the choice, a substantial number of males would eventually choose to have themselves circumcised. I don't know the exact figures, but I would guess that the number of males worldwide who choose to have their foreskins cut off is less than one in a hundred, and I would further guess that it's probably less than even one in a thousand.

[5] I would suggest that anyone who doubts that a circumcised penis is inherently handicapped watch a circumcised male and an intact male masturbate.

[6] Yes, many men live very fulfilling lives without a foreskin. Many people live very fulfilling lives without their sight. The point is that they shouldn't have to and no one has the right to force them to.

[7] Circumcised men experience pleasure on a lower level, yes, but also within a much narrower range at that level. There is a whole universe of sensations that a male without a foreskin does not and can not experience on any level at all.

[8] I included the article about the physician masturbating during a rectal examination because it documents that some doctors become doctors to get a steady supply of unwitting sex partners with whom and upon whom they can act out their sexual compulsions. I didn't include an article about a doctor masturbating while "examining" or cutting off a baby's or child's or adult's foreskin because, as far as I know, no such article has yet been printed. I'm confident, however, that it's just a matter of time before one is printed.